When asbestos fibers are disturbed, they can become airborne. Inhaling or otherwise ingesting these fibers can cause an individual to be directly exposed to asbestos, which can lead to a number of serious and potentially deadly diseases.
The most common cancer associated with asbestos exposure is mesothelioma, a deadly cancer that can affect the lining of the heart, lungs or abdomen. The symptoms of this disease vary depending on the type of mesothelioma that is diagnosed.
Exposure to asbestos has also been linked to an increased risk of lung cancer and asbestosis. Some studies have also suggested a link with gastrointestinal and colorectal cancer, as well as an increased risk of throat, kidney, esophagus and gallbladder cancers.
Most individuals who develop an asbestos-related disease have been exposed to asbestos fibers over a prolonged period of time. As a result, workers whose jobs bring them regularly into contact with products containing asbestos are at the highest risk of becoming ill from asbestos. Millions of American workers have been exposed to asbestos in a number of industries, including shipbuilding, mining, manufacturing, construction, firefighting or automobile repair and construction.
Although the risk of illness increases the longer a person is exposed to asbestos, some individuals have developed mesothelioma or another asbestos disease after only a brief exposure. In some cases, these diseases have been reported among the family members of workers who were regularly exposed to asbestos and brought fibers home with them on their clothing. Cases of mesothelioma have also been observed among individuals who lived close to asbestos mines.
According to the National Cancer Institute, workers who were involved in the cleanup, rescue and recovery of the World Trade Center following the attacks on September 11, 2001, may also be at in increased risk of developing an asbestos-related disease due to the millions of tons of fibers that were released into the atmosphere. Workers at the greatest risk of illness include firefighters, police officers, paramedics, construction workers and volunteers who worked near Ground Zero. Individuals who lived, worked or attended school near the WTC towers may also be at an increased risk of illness.